Panama City Beach has problem with sea turtle deaths. The Bay County Tourist Development Council recently commissioned a survey from aquatic research, conservation, and safety to determine the extent of the threat caused by the light from beach development.
Tourism leaders got the result of that study Tuesday, and the results are not good. The survival of sea turtles is important to most of this area's tourism leaders and elected officials.
Mike Thomas, Bay County Commissioner, said, “We've been working on an ordinance for a year or two. The county commission authorized the TDC to get studies done and figure out the effects the best way to have the most turtles repopulate and keep everybody safe."
But there is an ulterior motive. Local officials want federal permits to do more beach renourishment, but the feds won't grant those permits without a local turtle protection law. Lights are the biggest problem. Newly hatched baby sea turtles follow the moonlight to get to the water, but street lights and developments can confuse them into going the wrong way.
The survey found the lights from Frank Brown Park can be the biggest potential distraction on the beaches, and lights aren't the only danger. Beach furniture and nocturnal beach-goers can become barriers. Drainage ditches are also a problem, but beachfront owners are getting mixed message from the federal government and local code enforcement.
Philip Griffitts, Jr., Sugar Sands owner, said, "The state of Florida requires a certain amount of foot candles on the pool deck, but yet the ordinance, the way it's written will not allow that amount of foot candles on the pool deck, so there's a direct problem."
Experts are giving city officials some advice, including businesses investing in yellow, low wattage light bulbs for outside lamp posts and signs.
Tinted windows, called gray glass, can block the inside light from homes and businesses. But most local glass store probably don't carry them in stock.
The only option everyone seemed to agree on was relocating the turtle nests. There's no word yet on Panama City Beach officials' next step.